We all know they're a swizz. So why DO clever women like me blow a fortune on face creams



23:15 GMT, 22 August 2012

My bathroom shelf is crowded with them. Some have been there so long their lids are coated with a thick layer of dust. They bear witness, my rational self knows, to my extravagance and bad judgement.

I am talking about my collection of expensive face creams. They range from Crme de la Mer at 225 a pot to Clarins and my favourite Este Lauder.

I am not normally a lavish person. My best handbag, which is bright pink, cost 5 three years ago in an M&S sale. (I did buy a wonderful Marc Jacobs once, but it was snatched in Selfridges’ shoe department the very same day, so I gave up).

Hope: Author Fay Weldon knows face creams don't live up to their promises but she still can't resist buying them

Hope: Author Fay Weldon knows face creams don't live up to their promises but she still can't resist buying them

And I detest shopping. Most of my clothes arrive in parcels from literary friends who reckon they are better at choosing my clothes than I am. They are right.

Come to think of it, I’m a cheap date: I don’t order oysters, prefer red to champagne, and don’t smoke.

So what is it with these face creams Why can’t I resist the blandishments of the gold tops on the marble shelf, even though they’re crowding out the toothpaste and Savlon

I know the experts say they are a snare and a delusion, that the bargain Aldi version does as much or as little good as the Crme de la Mer, that a splash of cold water and a smear of olive oil or baker’s yeast will do just as well. But I don’t trust them — mean-minded wet blankets!

Me, I’d rather believe in the possibility of magic, that overnight I will be transformed, and rise Cinderella-like from the ashes of the grate to the splendours of the palace.

Promises, promises: We want to believe moisturisers will give us fresh, dewy skin

Promises, promises: We want to believe moisturisers will give us fresh, dewy skin

And I am certainly not the only one happy to fool myself like this. I know plenty of intelligent, successful women who buy into the cosmetic con in just the same silly way I do. So why do we do it

Well, who wants to grow old The longer you can put it off, the better.

We all know modern culture equates beauty with youth. These creams promise us the fresh, dewy looks of the young.

And given how the hungry skin drinks in the cool creamy moisturiser — oh, what wicked luxury! — it must be doing us good.

I believe in face creams as I believe in astrology. I know it’s not true — but it doesn’t stop me reading my horoscope.

And when I look at my face after a week of, say, Este Lauder’s Idealist Pore Minimising Skin Refiner, my opinion poll sample of one tells me it really does work. What I see in the mirror may not be good, but at least it seems to me better than it was last week.

There are times, though, when I shake myself out of the fantasy and set about decluttering the bathroom shelf.

I will, I promise myself, get rid of these tributes to vanity, these ridiculous oils and unguents I have accumulated, this hoard of glass pots, milky ceramic jars and intricately-waisted bottles, most as good as empty.

My eyes fall on the plain white plastic pot decorated only with an undistinguished smear of pink — Creme de La Mer. It’s empty: scoured out. I’m only keeping it to impress myself. Just behind it lies the Este Lauder Idealist Even Skintone Illuminator and three half-used Este Lauder Night Repair bottles, all half empty, all in their attractive dark brown.


Women spend an average of 653.64 a year on beauty products

I drag over a waste bin but my hand is nerveless, not up to the task. In fact, far from discarding them, I simply notice my Vrit cleanser is about to run out so make a mental note to buy more — it’s an ongoing cycle.

What is wrong with me The same, I suspect, as is wrong with half the women in the country; it is why the cosmetic and skin care industries flourish when others fall by the wayside. We believe in magic. And the more we spend the more effective the magic will be.

If we spend enough a knight in shining armour will gallop to the rescue, and we will live happily ever after.

Was I not told, as a young thing in
advertising: ‘If a lipstick isn’t selling, double the price’ People
trust what they spend money on. They’re buying magic, not a tube of
coloured wax.

When I was 16, my dear mother told me
never to use soap and water on my face; I should always cream it clean.
It’s all her fault.

‘Soap and water dries the skin,’ she
said. I bet my mother, a frugal person, forgot her words of warning as
soon as she had uttered them. She can’t have envisaged I would have
taken them so seriously.

Beauty regime: Just applying creams can make women feel more confident (posed by model)

Beauty regime: Just applying creams can make women feel more confident (posed by model)

My children often say to me ‘But you told me’ — this, that or the other — ‘when I was small.’ Something daft I said off the top of my head — but remembered as words of wisdom.

My mother and my grandmother before her used Pond’s Cold Cream on their faces, and an occasional astringent mask of baker’s yeast. They’d put vinegar in the rinsing water when they washed their hair with soap and that was it.

This was all they needed, lucky old them. My grandmother modelled for Rossetti and my mother was known to her admirers as the most beautiful woman in all New Zealand.

But I have my extensive beauty regime. And despite evidence to the contrary, I am convinced the creams work, if only in the same way a face-lift works: you’re as beautiful as you believe you are.

A surgeon promises you his version of perfection in return for a lot of money and a little pain. It’s an irresistible combination. The scars fade, the bruising heals, and lo! you’re beautiful.

Years ago two au-pairs I had for the children had nose jobs, in spite of my pleas to refrain. Six months after their ops, their noses had grown back, I swear, to their original proportions.

But both were married by then, and were so happy that nobody noticed the noses.

I would argue that face creams, like a freshly carved nose, carry the magic that makes you confident.

And the baker’s yeast mask, by the way, was my grandmother’s trick. Buy a packet of yeast, mix with water, and use as a mask for half an hour for a fresh, smooth, glowing complexion. As good as Botox. Use it on your scalp and white hair grows black. Promise!

Fay Weldon’s Habits Of The House, the first novel of her Love and Inheritance trilogy, is published by Head of Zeus at 14.99.